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Why a foreign education is crucial to succession planning

It helps bring new ideas to the table in a competitive global market

Avni Biyani. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Avni Biyani. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Studying abroad affords the next-generation leaders of family-owned businesses global exposure at a very young age. This helps them bring new ideas to the table and chart their way into newer territories. This can be crucial at a time when businesses are changing at a fast pace in a competitive global market.

Take the case of Avni Biyani (27), the younger daughter of Kishore Biyani, founder and chief executive officer of Future Group. In 2011, soon after graduating in sociology and politics from New York University (NYU), she joined as the concept head of Foodhall, a premium lifestyle food superstore. Even though the group already had a presence in the food superstores segment with Food Bazaar and KB’s FairPrice, Avni (pictured) saw an opportunity in opening premium food stores targeted at well-travelled and affluent Indian consumers and expats.

“Avni has a sense of understanding of the food business in India, which probably is very unique, and she understands food in the 360-degree sense in terms of the ingredients, the cuisines, the chefs (part of Foodhall’s gourmet catering service), food tastes and the making of any product. She understands this space. She is very well-exposed and has travelled around the world and food has always been an interest. So she brings in something that we normally cannot do ourselves," says Kishore Biyani.

Avni adds: “Everything that I saw and learnt in four years (at NYU) definitely helped me when I came back and I use it in some way or the other. I don’t think learning ever stops. I was learning back then and I am learning even today."

According to Kotak Wealth Management’s “Top Of The Pyramid 2016 Report" on the lifestyle, mood and aspirations of ultra high net-worth individuals (ultra HNIs) in India, “With the changing education paradigm in India, ultra HNIs are making way for the next generation in their enterprises quite early on... Preparation for succession planning happens majorly through a formal education—seen in 45% of ultra HNIs."

There is a reason why ultra HNI inheritors seek higher education abroad, says Rajendra Srivastava, dean and Novartis professor of marketing strategy and innovation, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. “The curriculum at many Indian institutions (beyond ISB and some leading Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management) has not changed in a decade. Having the opportunity to learn in one of the best schools abroad not only provides professional capability but also enhances their credibility within their own organization when they return. So, they have a leadership position on merit, not just family privilege," adds Srivastava.

Avni’s elder sister, Ashni (32), took a slightly different path. She graduated as a textile designer from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bengaluru. But while studying there, she took short-term summer courses on scenario-planning at the Parsons School of Design in New York and a course in general management at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Ashni, who heads Future Ideas, the insights and design arm of Future Group, says her courses helped her introduce design-led thinking to the group. “While Srishti was more of a liberal arts education along with design thinking and design understanding, Parsons gave me an exposure and a different view into design education," says Ashni. On why she did not pick a management course, she says, “I was surrounded by a lot of designers back then and I liked the way they approached things. They had humanistic ideas to problems, which resonated with me. So I think that’s why I chose to not study business and explore something wider."

“Design is a way of thinking and that is what one practises in day-to-day existence in every which way. So that has certainly helped our business," she adds.

Her father calls her the group’s “thought designer". “Ashni is a thinker. Anything new which we do in the group, she leads that journey. We are dealing with consumers that are ever-evolving and ever-changing; so we have to deal with products that are contemporary and relevant in today’s age and time. So, she delves in that skill set in the organization and that is a very rare thing to create in any organization through any other means," says Kishore Biyani.

While the two sisters understand emerging trends better, they need their father’s experience to guide them in handling unforeseen challenges with ease. “My father has been very relevant with time. I think what is interesting is the way in which he accepts the new thoughts that we are bringing in. There is an amount of wisdom that one gets to work with," says Ashni.

Kishore Biyani, however, says he himself never seriously considered studying abroad—he graduated in commerce from HR College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai, in 1981. “I wasn’t very keen, to be honest. But back then, we had nobody—no cousins, family members or parents—who was exposed to this. So we never really got a chance to even think about it. Besides, I don’t think there was an inclination also… I have always believed business is learnt while doing and theories don’t teach business," he says.

But he is proud of what his daughters bring to the table.

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